By KYLER SUMTER
Jahkil Jackson was eight years old when he realized he wanted to do more to help those in need.
After the Ray Elementary School student helped his aunt distribute food to homeless people around Chicago, he immediately wanted to do more. He started creating “Blessing Bags” filled with wipes, socks, deodorant, hand sanitizer, granola bars, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bottled water, and more and donating them to homeless shelters and passing them out to homeless people himself with the help of friends and family.
“Every time I saw a homeless person on the street, it made me really really sad and it made me want to give them money,” said Jackson, now 9 years old. “After a while my parents began to say that if we keep giving the homeless money, we will become broke, so we discussed an alternative and Blessing Bags was the solution.”
In 2016 Jackson and his friends and family distributed over 1,600 Blessing Bags. He wants to distribute 5,000 bags by December 2017.
Jackson and his family created the non-profit organization “Project I Am” and they host monthly bag packing meetings where people are invited to come and donate items, help put together bags in an assembly line style, and help distribute them. The organization was originally called “I Am Naeem”, which is Jackson’s middle name and means “to give without receiving,” but the name was changed to be more inclusive of kids all over the world.
“The title “Project I Am” asks the question: Who are you? I Am leaves room for everyone to say something positive about themselves,” Jackson said. “Once we got going with it, we decided to name it Project I Am because kids from across the country started to contact me regarding doing the same thing in their city, so this will allow them to title it with their name instead of my name.”
All eyes are now on Jackson and his project. In 2016, he began working with Heartland Alliance to put together the bags, got the chance to go to Los Angeles to distribute bags to the homeless on Skid Row, became a member and speaker of the WE International Youth Council, and has already been featured on ABC, USA Today, and other news outlets. Project I Am also has several partners, including Chicago Hopes for Kids, #HashtagLunchbag, and Village Leadership Academy.
“It feels great to have so much support,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of cool to see myself on TV too! It is also important that I am showing a different image of what you usually see in the news about black youth.”
In addition to his philanthropic activities, Jackson also does extracurricular activities related to basketball, break-dancing, and acting.
“I also tap dance with Madd Rhythm Dance Academy!” Jackson added when asked how he keeps up with his busy schedule. “I keep up with all of this because I have organized parents. They keep me on a schedule.”
All of his activities often intersect at bag packing meetings where his classmates, dance team members, and basketball team members come to help out with distributions.
While all of the praise and attention he’s received feels good, he loves being able to see how his work makes other people feel.
“It makes me happy to see others happy. I like to see smiles on their faces,” he said. “And it feels good to inspire other kids. This is what I want my organization to do. Even when I become an adult, I am sure that kids will still be helping others in the community. This is my ultimate goal.”
Jackson’s goal with his project is to inspire kids all over the world to do work in their communities to shed light on important issues.
“This project is important to spread the message that homeless people are also people too,” he said. “A lot of times people don’t even recognize the homeless. It’s like they are invisible.”
For more information on how you can donate money, items and to attend future Blessing Bags meetings, visit www.iamnaeem.com.